The strangest series of events in the past few weeks has led me to seek out powerful, intelligent, funny, witty, and wise women, throughout history, who have been in the public eye. I’m not at liberty to explain why I’ve embarked on this journey, but I can say that it has already yielded some interesting information.
When we think of “powerful women,” each of us has a completely different mental image of who the quintessential powerful woman is. Some might think of women who are in movies, television, or music. Of course, the examples in that category are as diverse as Bette Midler, Beyoncé, Susan Sarandon, Janet Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Jennifer Aniston, Ingrid Bergman, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, and Meryl Streep.
The political arena gives us Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Princess Diana, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Nancy Pelosi. Each of these women has a different set of skills, different character, a different style, different mannerisms, different views, and different philosophies. Yet, they all have one thing in common – power.
What defines their power? From where did this power come? Is it real, or is it just perceived to exist? Who has it, and who can get it? To answer these, one first has to know what power is. According to Merriam-Webster, “powerful” is defined: “having the ability to control or influence people or things: having a strong effect on someone or something: having or producing a lot of physical strength or force.”
When Debbie Allen, of Fame fame, steps on a Broadway stage, she takes command of the room. She has appeared in television programs, movies, and Broadway shows. Allen is an actress, singer, choreographer, writer, teacher, business owner, director, and producer. This 66-year-old woman has a résumé that few can mirror, she is well respected throughout her industry, and hundreds of performers owe the start of their career to her. She is power personified.
A quick perusal of Allen’s biography revealed that, as a child, her mother demanded that Debbie and her siblings have a strong work ethic. They were not excused from household responsibilities, school work, or excellent behavior for any reason. When Debbie was denied acceptance into a North Carolina dance school as a child, the reason was clearly racist in nature. Yet, her mother did not even excuse this and told Debbie that she had to work harder. So she did. Note to self: part of your power must derive from your willingness to work; accept responsibility; never blame anyone for your failure but yourself.
Further reading revealed that, after acting on the stage in New York, Allen went to California and began working in television shows, and later, movies. This move gave her more name recognition and opened many more opportunities to her. Note to self: don’t be afraid of change; don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.
After already attaining huge successes as a dancer, singer, and actress, Allen began directing, and later producing, television shows and movies. She eagerly accepted the task of directing the series “A Different World” after its first season had been a flop. Allen developed the characters and plot lines and took on more significant issues that college students were facing. She made the show more real. Note to self: don’t accept the status quo when you know there is something better.
In a field in which the average female performer is 5’5’’, she is only 5’2” tall, but Debbie Allen is far more than average! If she ever did allow her size, shape, gender, or race to affect her actions, you wouldn’t know it. Regardless of her physical limitations, Allen maintained that work ethic instilled in her by her mother and continued to work.
Body image really is in our head. Of course, discrimination abounds today, especially for women. Women get older while men become more distinguished. Women become stiff and weak while men are suffering from an old football injury. When it comes to sex discrimination and body image, women clearly face the uphill battle. So, what? Get over it! Note to self: my physical limitations are only as bad as I allow them to be.
When Debbie was a young girl, her mother often told her to “be true, be beautiful, and be free.” What you think about, you bring about. Debbie grew up realizing how important it was to accept responsibility, to work hard, and to be true. In her adulthood she continued this by not being afraid of hard work, of change, or to reinvent her skill set. She refused to accept “no” for an answer, or to continue to do things the same way when she could do them better. Nothing stood in her way. She developed her short stature into a powerful, commanding presence.
From where does power come? It comes from our self. We can choose to be powerful, or not. We can choose to work hard, to accept responsibility, and to never accept the bad as the normal. We can choose to be powerful. My power comes from within me.